Scotland composites get a look in

Friday 27th November 2009
Business Secretary Lord Mandelson visited Williams F1 to launch the UK Composites Strategy. Courtesy:

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson has announced new investment totalling £22m to further advance the development of ‘composite’ materials. Composites (or hybrids) are increasingly used for their lightweight, super strength properties in aeroplane wings and racing cars. He used a visit to Williams Formula One, Oxfordshire, to launch the investment and publish the Government’s new Composite Strategy.

The investment is made up of • £16m for a new National Composites Centre in the Bristol area (£12m from central Government, £4m from the South West Regional Development Agency • £5m for the winning firm’s to develop new composites manufacturing techniques (to be won via the Technology Strategy Board’s new ‘Grand Challenge’ competition, also launched ) and £1m upfront funding to help develop challenge bids.

In the ‘UK Composite Strategy’ document Lord Mandelson estimates that the high-value composites market is currently worth about £1bn to the British economy. The UK offshore composite wind turbine blade and aerospace wing market alone could be worth £22bn by 2020 – highlighting composites’ low carbon credentials. 

Examination of the composite companies in Scotland finds that many are understandably based in the US or Europe which seem to take composites manufacture more seriously than the UK. Still there are encouraging signs of Scottish ingenuity at work.

Scotland has significant activity in the aerospace, defence and marine sector. It also has a strong energy sector, with an increasing focus on offshore renewables.

Right: Weaving space.

Spirit AeroSystems at Prestwick undertakes a growing range of composite-based wing design and manufacturing activity for a range of Tier 1s, including all the Airbus families, where has secured the fixed leading edge contract for the new Airbus A350XWB.

Other aerospace companies engaged in composites include Slingsby Advanced Composites, Scottisih Enterprise and the Scottish Government have invested various composites facilities and various R&D projects including the new Spirit Composites Development Centre and contributions to the national NGCW programme.

While currently focused primarily on metal-based building technologies, Scotland’s world class naval shipbuilding facilities operated by BVT Surface Fleet, which have has significant investment support from the public sector, are increasingly looking to the use of composite materials in ship construction.

Almost 50 Companies in Scotland are presently active in the composite material supply chain across the aerospace, energy, marine, automotive and construction sector with around a dozen in the area of carbon and carbon / metal composites. Composite activity for the aerospace industry is spread throughout the supply chain, and includes:  Manufacture of carbon fibres:
 conversion of technical textiles and polymers;  design engineering and
the integration of manufactured composite products.

Aerospace composite industry players in Scotland range from micro-businesses to global corporations.

Scotland has significant capability in carbon and polypropylene fibres and an emerging capacity in textile preforms and cores. There is also extensive expertise in the R&D and repair and manufacture of composite products. Scottish universities undertake extensive composites research, development and training activity, as well as research into new Non Destructive Testing technologies, essential for speeding up the regulatory approvals process for aerospace.

Scottish companies, particularly those already operating in technical textiles, have the potential to address currently unmet market needs on a global basis. The presence of major composite end users in the UK provides the platform for Scottish companies to build relationships with these key strategic players. Scottish Enterprise has invested in the R&D of a 3D weaving demonstrator aimed at developing and proving technologies for use in composite components.


ITI Energy invested £3.6m in phase 1 and further £4.5m in phase 2 into composite pipeline structure - Helipipe – an innovative all-steel composite pipeline technology that usesa novel helically wound high-strength steel strip technology, incorporating a unique, patented, geometric profile.

Integration of corrosion resistant liners into the Helipipe solution make it particularly relevant in aggressive environments such as sour gas generating lines.

The ability to manufacture on-site allows for substantial cost reductions when installing pipelines in remote locations, and avoids the potential for supply chain bottle-necks at pipe mills. In addition, cost savings of 30-40% are forecast compared to current on-shore pipeline technologies. Initially, the product will be apply into oil and gas transport.

ITI Energy is in the latter stages of approving a new research project in Offshore Renewables, with a specific focus on composite manufacturing systems for wind turbine blades.

Slingsby Advanced Composites – £1.25m Composite Design and Manufacturing facility at Prestwick (a composite cluster location) which will become a centre of excellence featuring the design of prototype composite structures, the manufacture of aerospace components and a repair and renovation scheme of composite parts.

Spirit Aerosystems (Europe) Ltd - £12.1M composite manufacturing facility in Prestwick designing and automated manufacture of wing and fuselage aerostructures. Specific future development in advanced automation and materials modelling.

Advanced Composite companies in Scotland:

Calcarb, a world No. 2 in rigid graphite felt, was acquired Carbone LorraineRigid felts are used as a sophisticated form of insulation in very high-temperature furnaces. Use of these insulating products has grown at a very rapid rate over the last few years, initially in electronics and now in solar energy. This has resulted in a shortage of supply of rigid felts relative to the level of demand in these markets.

Calcarb was a subsidiary of Inductotherm, which specialises in vacuum furnaces, in particular induction furnaces. Calcarb's head office and production plant are in Scotland, close to Edinburgh. It recently more than doubled its annual production capacity by building a new plant that opened last autumn under very satisfactory conditions. In view of this new production capacity, the Group is expected to generate sales of £35m from Calcarb products in 2009. The Group is aiming for sales growth of at least 15% a year for the years ahead thanks to brisk solar energy demand.

Fineunit Ltd Projects undertaken range from small detailed components to complete aircraft. Remotely operated underwater systems to nuclear de-commissioning equipment. Military and civil aircraft to mass transit rolling stock for clients worldwide. It has extensive experience in the structural design & analysis of unmanned concept aircraft from clean sheet through to first flight.
Its experience in lightweight and novel structures has involved it with numerous other challenges from waste water treatment plants to train emergency exit doors, oil recovery hovercraft ,to rescue submarines.

SGL Technic based at Muir of Ord, near Inverness is part of SGL Carbon AG, and Hoechst is a shareholder. It specialises in carbon Acrylic Yarn Carbon Alloy Blocks, Carbon Fibre Raw Materials, Electrodes, Furnace Linings Glue Graphite Electrodes

Tufnol Composites  based East Kilbride is Scotland’s leading stockist and machinist of resin bonded laminates, composites and high performance engineering plastics.With machining facilities specially geared to provide a rapid response for short-run orders, Tufnol East Kilbride provide  small quantities of components, or up to a thousand off or more, made-to-order in a matter of days. It can also rapidly draw on the main stock and facilities of Tufnol’s Birmingham HQ when required.

BAE Systems Regional Aircraft based Prestwick, with facilities in Hatfield and Washington.

Weir Group Primary focus mining, but composites bound to be tucked away somewhere.

Cellucomp Ltd  in Fife produces Curran composites (right) used in fishing rods and consultancy materials testing services, CAD design, FE analysis and test mould manufacture

W L Gore & Associates part of one of the largest privately held US company with materials development for most industrial sectors. Its two Scottish plants, incorporating the Fabrics Division and the Industrial Products and Medical Products Divisions, are located close to each other in Livingston; strategically well placed between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Doosan Babcock  Manufacturing consists of three modern, flexible, state of the art factories located close to excellent infrastructure, including motorways, airport and docks, for easy supply and delivery of materials and products. These facilities incorporate the latest in technical equipment and operate to the highest quality standards. Flexible capacity means that they are able to adapt quickly and effectively to accommodate customer requirements.Renfrew facilities are able to draw on company wide knowledge and experience for specific applications, be it engineering, the testing of components or the installation and commissioning of the manufactured plant items.

Aerostructures  located Prestwick International Aerospace Park

Composite Transducers Ltd (Left images) in Aberdeen provides piezoelectric materials and acoustic transucer solutions for a variety of underwater applications.

Clyde Union  Glasgow-base global group for  single, multistage and specialist pumps.

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